I continue to pursue personal holiness as the Bible says believers should. I continue to fail often. I suppose I am not as bad as I could be, would be, were I not focusing on my desire to obey Christ out of love for Him. But oh how slow is my progressive sanctification and oh how weary I often grow over the battle against my own sin. These messages in 3 parts by Tim Keller are really helping me persevere in my pursuit but also have helped me see the need of claiming my justification in Christ alone to avoid depression and despair. I’m sharing this here for my own remembrance and in case it might help anyone else struggling in this regard. This is for believers. Only Christ believers/followers have the justification and right standing with God that Keller explains. But unbelievers, whosoever will may come and I pray God calls you and draws you. My notes are my paraphrase of Keller’s message as it stood out to me. I thank God for gifted Bible teachers who are staying true to the Bible and, to the best of my knowledge, I believe Keller is one of these. My own pastor’s recent teaching on the book of Ephesians has also been a great help on this topic. My true identity and my righteousness are found in Christ alone.
Keller, Part 1 of 3, Finding Our Identity in Christ
Colossians 3:1-3 summarized, Set your mind on things above not on earthly things. Christ is the believer’s life.
Repentance and faith are necessary for Christian growth. Respond to sin with repentance and to the grace of God with faith/belief. We must identify and remove idols from our lives. (The negative terminal of the battery.) This lesson is about the positive terminal of the battery–setting your mind on Christ. How? The word righteousness is not well understood. One can make an argument that the theme of the Bible is righteousness. What is it? Paul considered everything loss/rubbish compared to knowing Christ (Philippians 3:7-11). We might think it means moral purity, but that’s not it. It is a relational word. It means to be welcomed. The opposite of it is rejection. Like being dressed inappropriately for the occasion. It’s like being scrutinized for a job interview but then being found acceptable. You feel received, welcomed, and you’ve found favor in their eyes. That is a better understanding of righteousness with God. Each person (apart from Christ) tries to establish their own righteousness. You develop your own set of standards that you think will make you acceptable. To try to make ourselves acceptable to others and God. The results of this are either guilt or anxiety. When we fail and miss the mark, we experience guilt and anxiety. But some people approximate meeting their standard, or at least they believe they are on their way to achieving it. When we get older, it is like a mid life crisis often, when we realize we are not on the way, we are not achieving our standard. When we realize I am not on my way, I am not succeeding, it brings anxiety. Example of the novel called The Trial. The main character is accused of a crime and is going to be tried, but nobody will tell him what he is on trial for. The fact is he looks his life over and he sees all his flaws and wonders if that is what he was arrested for. The author is saying that we cannot achieve even our own standard of righteousness.
What is the answer to guilt and anxiety? The gospel is the only answer. We must decide to count all the things we think may give us righteousness and count them rubbish like Paul. We must preach the gospel to ourselves every day. The same thing that got you into the Kingdom is what causes you to grow in righteousness. Warm yourself by the fire of Jesus/the gospel. The only thing that makes a believer acceptable is that Jesus paid our debt. If you have a negative self image, maybe you are just being realistic. The gospel says to swallow your pride, admit you are unacceptable, and receive the verdict of absolute acceptability by God in Christ. God sees us as just as righteous as Jesus. Tell yourself that every day. BEHOLD what manner of love the Father has given unto us. We just BEHOLD. We must look! It is this message that converts people to become believers. It is simple enough for even a child to get a grip on and understand. And yet it is also so deep that is defies our full comprehension. Paul says to stop your own striving and work and begin to trust what Jesus did for you. JC came and both provided for us active and passive obedience. Passive means JC came and obeyed God by dying for us and paid our debt for us. Active means that JC also performed what we should have performed. He lived a perfect moral record for you. JC allowed John the Baptist to baptize Him even though He had no sin. We must lay down our own attempts at righteousness and allow Jesus to be our righteousness. JC has not only paid our debt and saved us from God’s wrath, but He has brought us all the blessings there are (future eternal reward and child of the King status). Prayer is such a privilege. It has nothing to do with what kind of a week we have had or how well or poorly we have done. We have bold, confident access to God through Jesus always. And true believers will turn to God in repentance like Peter did. JC told Peter WHEN you turn, not if, because JC has prayed for him. JC is praying for each believer. JC is praying for me. JC is our advocate. 1 John 2:1. Only believers in JC have this hope that there is a defense attorney who will stand up for us in our failure and guilt. JC’s righteousness is imputed to believers. JC does not ask His Father for mercy for believers. He does not ask God to cut us a break every time we blow it. We don’t have to wonder how long JC can keep this up, asking for this. JC reminds the Father that JC paid our debt, and God you cannot demand two payments for the same debt. JC says that each believer’s debt is covered. JC’s blood cries out for acquittal for each believer, it demands it. True believers will repent, turn back, and will never be lost. We must stop trying to make ourselves acceptable before God. We must trust in JC’s payment/righteousness. Consider how we say “I gave my life to Christ.” But we must not mean that we are trying to be more religious than ever-just trying harder in our own strength. This makes our own Christianity as an idol–“trying to be good”. Martin Luther was doing this until one day he read Romans 1:16-17 and he grasped that God made JC’s righteousness available to him, received by faith, and then he began to live in Christ. He realized his righteousness was an alien righteousness given by God. Then he felt himself reborn and in Paradise. We must realize that our own righteousness and trying, trying cannot save us. (Various other examples of testimonies of those who have realized this were given.) We must look from ourselves to Christ. Many people, different places, different times, different centuries, but they all met the same God through Christ.
If salvation is this radical, then why should we be good? Romans 6: what then shall we sin? Does this ruin our incentive to be good? Our incentive for good works before salvation was fear of failure. The right incentive for practical righteousness is love for God. It is alright to be sad when we fail, but if “being good” is what we depend on for our righteousness, we will become depressed. Christians, do you realize how little you are making use of the privileges you have in Christ? Look and see how glorious it is where you stand–seen as righteous as Christ. We must hope in Christ, then purify ourselves as He is pure. Behold JC’s glory and then be transformed by His glory because of His love for you. Set your mind on JC on things above. Preach it to yourself every day. My only hope is found in JC’s righteousness.
Response: God help me to grasp this and remember it. Help me to love You more and to want to obey You, but not to implode in depression and despair when I fail. Help me to immediately turn to You in boldness and confidence when I fail and sin. Help me to behold how glorious You are JC and to realize all I have in You. Help it to transform me. Give me more transforming grace. Take away my tendency to rely on false things instead of You and turn me to be able to do more good works, or if I truly am too sick or tired to go to bed and sleep. Help me to keep pursuing personal holiness, but by Your grace. Guide my day each day and help me accomplish what You want. Help me with all my tasks.
4 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.